How IKEA cares about gender balance. An interview with Joanna Kijas-Janiszowska, CFO of IKEA Retail Poland

How IKEA cares about gender balance. An interview with Joanna Kijas-Janiszowska, CFO of IKEA Retail Poland

What is the reason for the lack of promotions of women to top positions?

The topic of equal representation is particularly close to my heart, as a woman working in an area that has been dominated by men for years. Although change is already happening, it is still insufficient, especially in leadership positions.

I think the reason behind this is, among other things, the reality in which we operate, in which the stereotype of the ‘Polish mother’ always putting children, home and family first, and her own professional ambitions a definite second, is still strong, while at the same time women have high expectations of themselves. And in my opinion, women set the bar very high for themselves. We want to be perfectionists, both at home and at work, and this is plainly difficult. What can really help to reconcile our ambitions and needs in a similar situation is support from the employer, real help in building a career. And this, unfortunately, is still a rarity on the Polish labour market.

However, I myself feel proud to be working in a place where this balance has been achieved and where women are supported in fulfilling their career ambitions. In the international IKEA team, 45% of our CEO’s are women, in 14 markets across 31 countries. And this is true even in countries where gender equality is progressing more slowly. At IKEA Poland, women make up 58% of all employees, and among managers it is an equal 50%.

This is the result of the approach we take in our daily work – respectful of others and focused on equal treatment, which for us means giving women and men the same opportunities when it comes to professional development. For this reason, we do not just focus on percentages alone, but also on making sure that equal opportunities resonate at every stage of the development or recruitment process. This is how we can create a truly inclusive and diverse workplace.

Do women business owners have a much harder time than men when it comes to raising funds from investors, or do they use other sources of funding?

I have recently read that less than 2% of venture capital funds go to female startups. Of course, one of the reasons for this is that fewer women choose to found startups and apply for funding, because according to the same study, only 8% of startups are founded by women. But this is only one of the reasons. I believe that women, at least in our Polish reality, have an additional barrier – they have to show more professionalism and a better justification of the business idea. However, the most important thing is that we want to change this reality. Fortunately, we are seeing changes in this field too. We hear about fantastic business ideas put into motion by women – just look at the Sukces Pisany Szminką Businesswoman of the Year competition, which in my opinion is a fantastic initiative. Still, we can do more. At IKEA, we feel that we all need to do more. Fair and equal opportunities for women are a basic human right. IKEA’s vision is to create a better everyday life for many people and we believe that equality every day means a better everyday life. This is why we at IKEA engage in various initiatives, support and collaborate with social enterprises within the framework of the People & Planet Positive sustainability strategy and thus contribute to reducing inequalities. For example, the IKEA Social Entrepreneurship initiative and NESsT have selected social enterprises to benefit from our development programme. Out of 80 organisations that sent in applications, six from Poland and four from Romania were selected. The three-year programme was launched two years ago. It combines the business knowledge of employees from different companies in the IKEA family (IKEA Retail, IKEA Purchasing, IKEA Industry) with NESsT’s experience of investing in social enterprises.

Is there a wage gap and, if so, where do you see it most?

Definitely yes. The wage gap is unfortunately still a reality for many women in Poland. According to the EIGE Index, gender equality in Poland is below the EU average, and the Polish Economic Institute reports an adjusted wage gap of 10.4%. Many women still earn less than men for the same work. The wage gap grows the higher we climb in the structure of an organisation. It is most evident in places where women are least represented. In my experience, women are less likely than men to fight for promotion or for their pay. In my opinion, this is at least partly due to the way we raise girls. Girls are being constantly reminded that some things are unbecoming for them or they are not allowed to do certain things that boys can. Fortunately, this is also changing rapidly. That is why it is so important to support women on this road to pay equality and not to be indifferent.

At IKEA Retail, we have been taking steps for years to achieve gender balance at all levels of management and to even out pay inequalities within the same or similar positions – and we are succeeding. In fiscal year FY22, in the Gender Equal Pay study, the adjusted pay gap at IKEA was less than 0.5%.

As a leader and manager, but also as a mother and partner, I am happy to be part of this change. It is extremely important to me that together with IKEA we can speak out about this and set a good example for other companies to follow in our footsteps and reduce the pay gap.

Is the stereotypical, conservative gender role division still in place?

I think so. There are many industries, jobs and professions that are labelled as ‘masculine’ in which it is definitely more difficult for women to break through. There are also some where women dominate for a change. At IKEA, there are more men in areas such as logistics or digital, for example, while there are more women in human resources, communications or accounting. Personally, I believe that it is not gender that should determine a job or position, but our predispositions, competencies and skills. Therefore, I very much appreciate the fact that IKEA has taken significant steps over the years to address inequalities and values the diversity of all people. Although the majority of employees in logistics are still men, I am extremely proud that there are more women in this area too. As well as in the area of Digital and Innovation. Gender equality is taken into account in all our working processes, from recruitment to promotion and succession.

Would a man, if it is up to him to decide on a promotion, rather bet on a man because he thinks it will be easier to get along with him than with a woman?

I will say this – I don’t like to generalise. I think we all have certain, often unconscious ‘biases’ that influence the decisions we make. It’s important to realise them and not let them guide us. Gender should not be the criteria for a promotion or job acceptance decision. Only competence – what we represent. Based on my story, I would be unfair to say that men favour men, because in my case it was completely different. Paradoxically, it was men who bet on me several times in my professional past. That is why I am here today. At IKEA, to put it very openly, I have female supervisors for the first time and I get a lot of support from them. That’s what’s extremely special to me about this organisation – how important it is that everyone is equal in access to career development and advancement. How much it fosters an open work culture where everyone feels they belong, are welcomed, respected, accepted and valued for their uniqueness. We all need to do more to ensure that women don’t have to wait more than 100 years for equal opportunities, and IKEA wants to accelerate this change in society, alter the way we think about equality in business and inspire other companies to take action.

Are women too timid in competing for top positions? Perhaps they do not realise their own professionalism?

I think there is a grain of truth in this question. I mentioned earlier the ‘Polish mother’ stereotype, which, combined with professional ambitions, translates into very high expectations of oneself. So I wouldn’t say it’s shyness that causes women not to apply for higher positions, but rather doubt whether they can manage, whether they can reconcile the roles they often impose on themselves. Personally, I myself have asked the question in the past: am I sure I can do it, especially as combining family life, bringing up children and a demanding job are simply very challenging. What I think helps a lot in dealing with this challenge (as I mentioned earlier) is the encouragement from the employer. At IKEA, we place great importance on providing support, for example for those returning to work after long absences, especially for women returning from parental leave, and we offer benefits such as the additional IKEA Paternity Leave. As of 1 January 2020, more than 300 employees at IKEA Retail in Poland have already taken advantage of this opportunity. Through measures that support both parents, we give them the chance to fulfil themselves both professionally and personally.

What qualities did you display during your school years, were you active on the student council, were you class president, etc.?

The main qualities I remember and notice in myself from my school or university years are a curiosity for the world and a love for sports. This inquisitiveness for the world manifested itself in my travels near and far. My mother always said that I was constantly drawn out into the world. In addition, I love sports and think that they are a fantastic way of shaping people. They teach discipline, consistency, but also team spirit.

Have you met a business mentor on your journey through life, someone who has helped you to break through?

I met some fantastic people on my path who believed in me, probably even more than I believed in myself at that stage of my career path, and “gave me wings”. Paradoxically, these were men. Although I had the pleasure of working with many wonderful women, from whom I learned a lot and on whose support I could always count. My first female boss, however, was at IKEA. And I am proud to confirm that this is an organisation where in fact the role or position has no gender and where I get a lot of support.

Does the fact that the most important qualities of a good leader, i.e. empathy, understanding, a pro-social view of the organisation, are all traits attributed to women, work in women’s favour?

I think so. Definitely. I believe that women bring a different quality to business and that they make the conversation about business more meaningful. It is women who bring empathy, understanding, openness, kindness. This positive change can be seen not only at the levels of management and supervisory boards where women sit, but also at the levels of the country’s government.

Personally, I place a particular value in empathy and kindness. From this point of view, I am proud that caring for people and their needs is one of the core values that we follow at IKEA. We are all different and have different needs, so in everything we do we try to take into account the diversity and individuality of each and every one of us. Recent years have seen us continually measure ourselves against the unknown. All this makes us constantly look for new ways to act and support male and female employees, regardless of their gender. We believe that our ‘Leadership for All’ approach is the answer to the needs of today. It aims to develop leadership competencies in every person, every male and female co-worker. To this approach, we have also added the competence to take care of the balance in health, finances, professional and private life. We are committed to grow as an organisation by developing people and looking after the wellbeing of us all.

Joanna Kijas-Janiszowska, a professional with almost 20 years of experience in the field of finance, including the management of high-value companies. In April 2020, she became Chief Financial Officer of IKEA in Poland.

As CFO at IKEA, Kijas-Janiszowska is responsible for shaping and implementing the company’s financial strategy, including the areas of finance, controlling, legal department and risk, among others. Joanna Kijas-Janiszowska has 20 years of experience in building complex organisations and managing their finances. For more than 15 years, she held the positions of CFO and CEO in gas and energy companies, companies with significant assets and trading companies, such as: Hermes Energy Group S.A, Operator Systemu Magazynowania and PGNiG SA.

She graduated from the Warsaw School of Economics. She holds certificates ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Auditors) and CIA (Certified Internal Auditor). She has extensive practical experience in the areas of strategic and financial management, internal audits, restructuring, management and compliance, syndicated bank financing, accounting, controlling and taxation. Professionally, people matter to her and she would like her work to bring about a change for the better.

Privately, she is a wife and mother of two children.

Last Updated on September 12, 2023 by Anastazja Lach